Chris Case //

133// Mastering indoor cycling, with Joe Friel, Jim Rutberg, and riders on the eSports Team Saris-The Pro’s Closet

It wasn’t long ago that riding inside was something most of us did only when the weather was bad, or the days too dark, or we were pressed for time.

Flash forward to today and indoor cycling is quickly becoming a discipline many people focus on for its own sake. It’s no longer a second-rate alternative. And that’s why, today, we’ll focus entirely on indoor cycling and its many nuances.

The author of the famous “The Cyclist’s Training Bible,” Joe Friel has now co-written a new book with Jim Rutberg. “Ride Inside: The essential guide to get the most out of indoor cycling, smart trainers, classes, and apps” is the basis for our discussion today. Friel, with decades of experience coaching athletes, indoors and out, and Rutberg, who has long worked with coaches on disseminating their training philosophies, share their thoughts on the future of the sport and why we’re seeing more indoor cycling. They also discuss the specifics of indoor workouts, and why what works outside isn’t always the best practice inside—and vice versa. That and much more from Joe and Jim.

We also hear from three riders from Team Saris-The Pro’s Closet. Jennifer Real, Holden Comeau, and Matt Gardiner, all members of this eSports cycling team, have been racing for years almost exclusively on Zwift, and they help us understand the intricacies of this gaming-like platform: How to use the draft; why knowing the courses makes such a difference; how to set up your trainer, and much more. We also touch upon the all-important training aspects of indoor cycling.

Time to ride inside. Let’s make you fast!


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Photo Credits: Jennifer Real

TRANSCRIPTION

(Please excuse any typos as this transcript is generated automatically through A.I.)

Chris Case 00:12
Hello, and welcome to Fast Talk your source for the science of cycling performance. I’m your host Chris Case.

Chris Case 00:19
It wasn’t long ago that riding inside was something most of us did only when the weather was bad, or the days to dark, or we were pressed for time. Flash forward to today and indoor cycling is quickly becoming a discipline many people focus on for its own sake. It’s no longer a second rate alternative. And that’s why today we’ll focus entirely on indoor cycling and its many nuances.

Chris Case 00:43
The author of the famous “The Cyclist Training Bible,” Joe Friel, has now co written a new book with Jim Ruthberg, “Ride Inside: The essential guide to get the most out of indoor cycling, smart trainers, classes and apps” is the basis for our discussion today. Friel with decades of experience coaching athletes indoors and out, and Ruthberg, who has long worked with coaches on disseminating their training philosophies share their thoughts on the future of the sport and why we’re seeing more indoor cycling. They also discuss the specifics of indoor workouts and why what works outside isn’t always the best practice inside, and vice versa. That and much more from Joe and Jim.

Chris Case 01:22
We also hear from three riders from Team Saris – The Pros Closet. Jennifer Real, Holden Comeau and Matt Gardiner are all members of this eSports cycling team, and have been racing for years almost exclusively on Zwift. They help us understand the intricacies of this gaming like platform, how to use the draft, why knowing the courses makes such a difference, how to set up your trainer, and much more. And of course, we also touch upon the onboarding training aspects of indoor cycling.

Chris Case 01:54
It’s time to ride inside. Let’s make you fast.

Chris Case 02:01
Today we’re going to talk a little bit about or a lot about trainers, indoor cycling, indoor training, indoor racing. We’ve got two fantastic guests today who have just written a new book called “Ride Inside: the essential guide to get the most out of indoor cycling, smart trainers, classes, and apps.” Welcome to Fast Talk Joe Friel and Jim Ruthberg.

Joe Friel 02:26
Thanks, guys. Glad to be here.

Jim Ruthberg 02:28
Best to you

Trevor Connor 02:28
Really excited to have you.

Is it the golden age of riding inside?

Chris Case 02:30
So as we were preparing for the episode, we read the book, obviously. And Trevor and I, being in the training world and having been in it for quite a while now, dawned on us in a way, and the book really points this out; it used to be not all that long ago that trainers were that secondary method of training if you couldn’t get outside. They were sort of the weather’s not great, or it’s dark out or it’s winter, I’ll ride the trainer. And we’ve previously done episodes, specifically Episode 60 with a great physiologist, Kieran O’Grady, on sort of the science of trainer workouts and how to get the most out of them if you have to. But what we’re seeing now is that the trainer, riding inside, has become its own thing. It is not only a racing discipline, some people ride almost exclusively indoors, and so there’s been this fundamental shift we’re seeing that riding inside has become something that people do for the sake of riding inside because they like it. So that’s really what we want to talk about today. This, is it a golden age of riding inside? Is it a new era? Is it the dawn of a new era? Trevor, I know you have, as you often do, a good story to kick off the episode.

Trevor Connor 03:59
I really want to tell this story today be this is a story I’ve used a whole bunch of times. And I’m going to explain at the end of it why I wanted to tell this story today. This goes back to probably the late 90s. I was working with a coach who, he was a pure physiologist, so he wanted me on a trainer all the time because when you’re out in the road, you get all these variances and he doesn’t get good data. So he just wanted me to spend 12 hours a week on the trainer, which was miserable. At any opportunity I had to go outside, I did. And I had this one particular day where I was finally able to go outside. I had a three-four hour ride on my plan, I get out there, it’s just a couple degrees above freezing and this turned into one of those days where, this is a story you tell your friends about that ride you barely survived, because 30 minutes in it started doing this mix of rain and snow. I didn’t have the right gear. I’m sitting there freezing my butt off on my bike. Things are freezing up on my bike, I can’t use all the gears on my cassette. And I hit this point where I reach an intersection where I can go left or I can go right. If I go right, I can get home pretty quick in about 10 minutes. If I go left, I go over these hills and it’s a good hour to get home. I thought about it for about 30 seconds and went still better than the trainer.

Chris Case 05:22
The proverbial fork in the road and you chose misery outside over trainer inside.

Trevor Connor 05:28
And I went left. And the reason I wanted to tell this story today is because I think this is the last time I will ever tell that story. That was my opinion of trainers: it was they are the absolute last thing, I will go and ride in the rain and snow before I’ll sit on a trainer for a couple hours because that’s how miserable trainers are. And that’s just not where we’re at anymore.

Chris Case 05:55
You don’t think that way anymore.

Trevor Connor 05:56
I don’t. And look, this is a recent thing. As he pointed out, we did Episode 60, where we talked about trainers. And the important thing about that episode is we were trying to evaluate is riding on a trainer good? Bad? Does it help you? So we compared its biomechanics to on the road, we compared the the training to on the road. The underlying message the whole time was: we’re gonna evaluate whether trainers are good or bad depending on how well they simulate on the road training. Meaning you’re doing this purely to help riding out on the road and if it doesn’t help that then trainers suck. That was basically the underlying message of our episode. But as you said, and as you pointed out in the book, what really caught my attention was you had this line where you said “10 years ago, trainers were a second rate alternative when you couldn’t ride outside. Now people ride trainers for the sake of trainers.” And that’s a fundamental shift that I think has happened only in the last couple years.

Chris Case 07:00
Yeah, Joe, Jim, I would imagine you wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment that Trevor just expressed?

Joe Friel 07:09
I certainly do. I can recall, back in the 80s when I got my first indoor trainer and it was really kind of nice and I was able to do some in indoor training, I lived in Colorado at the time, in the winter time. But I can also recall those days when I spent, you know, four hours on a trainer, watching Tour de France videos, and gigantic puddle of sweat underneath of me and realize I’m miserable, thinking about you know, the next day I hope it doesn’t snow tomorrow so I can get outdoors. That was kind of the way it went. And the world has indeed changed a great deal in the world of cycling since those days. Now, just as you mentioned a while ago, Chris, people actually do this to ride indoors, because it’s enjoyable, they look forward to it. So the world has changed a tremendous amount over the, actually just last few years, hasn’t been all that long that this has been going on with movement to indoor cycling being as strong as it is. So we’re happy to see that.

Jim Ruthberg 08:16
And for me the background is, I remember back in college, a professor went through this whole, we went through a whole class about exercise assessment and all this kind of stuff. And at the end of the class, the professor said, “Look, the bottom line is if you can get people to move more than they moved before you’re doing a good thing.” And trainers, the technology of indoor cycling, the improvements there have made it such that we can get people to be more active, more frequently. They can, they’re more likely to ride more frequently and more hours per month. And that in and of itself is going to end up yielding a lot of great benefits for people who, whether they want to compete, whether they just want to be more fit, whether they just want to have it as more of a lifestyle habit, anything we can do to lower the barriers to get people active and keep them active is going to be a good thing.

Trevor Connor 09:12
So I guess let’s start I’m just gonna ask the question: so we’ve all recognized there has been this shift, there has been this change, what’s brought it about?

Joe Friel 09:23
First it started just because we had, there’s more technology, there’s better equipment to ride on it, that started many years ago with the improvement of the old trainers. The first time I actually saw improvement was back in the early 80s. They got a copy trainer and that made a dramatic change in routing indoors. It wasn’t nearly what we have today, but it was significant change. But now we’ve got you know the stuff we have indoors is really amazing what we can do with the equipment and the apps to ride indoors is really what’s changed it.

Joe Friel 10:01
But the thing that’s really given us a big boost has been the pandemic. Th COVID-19 thing is really what got people to start riding indoors and finding out they actually do enjoy it. It was the only way to get a workout in there for a while, people pretty much sheltered in indoors for weeks and months at a time.

Jim Ruthberg 10:24
I disagree a little bit with Joe, in terms of the COVID being the major catalyst in the popularity of indoor cycling, entirely. I think there was, if you back up a few years prior to that, the emergence of the apps and the smart trainers, and internet connectivity, you know, broadband, etc., when you combine the three of those together, plus all of the work that had been done with training, with power, and the ubiquity of training with power, all the work that Joe and others did for the past 20 years in terms of getting people to understand what training with power was, and to focus on numbers and have some literacy with that, you combine all that together and people were given the tools to be able to make indoor training more either interactive with other people, but even just engaging for themselves. You don’t need to necessarily be connected to other individuals outside your own home for indoor training to still be much more engaging than it was 10 years ago, whether you’re using just the computer or your own handlebars, whether you’re using an app that is downloading training content, but not communicating with other individuals, there’s so many different ways now to do this, that people are given just many more options than watching Tour de France videos where we always used to.

Racing on Zwift

Trevor Connor 11:56
Now that we’ve touched on this growing new form of competition, virtual racing, let’s hear from some riders who actually race on Zwift. Professionally, they are all members of the Saris – The Pros Closet team, a team that does all the racing virtually. Here are Holden Comeau, Jennifer Real, and Matt Gardiner.

Chris Case 12:16
Do you all just race on the Zwift platform? Are there other platforms that you race on? Tell me a little bit more about this world because I will be quite honest, Trevor does plenty of Zwifting, I do very little of it. In fact, I’ve probably done a total of an hour on Zwift in my life, so.

Holden Comeau 12:35
Yeah, I think first and foremost, we are all really passionate cycling eSports racers and right now that’s really our focus. I think most of that world’s focus is sort of directed at Zwift as a gaming platform. There certainly are other alternative options for racing cycling eSports, but Zwift is by far the most established and developed. So we really focus most of our time on Zwift.

Holden Comeau 13:11
And I think that we, we always sort of joke and go back and forth about whether or not we actually want to call ourselves professionals. We’ve been doing it passionately for a number of years and we’ve absolutely been early adopters. And I think Matt can probably go into some of the detail around really everything that he’s done to help grow the sport. He was, he’s been really influential in helping to establish some of the underlying like framework around how racing works and how transparency works. He’s an event organizer on Zwift as well. So, I don’t know if we’re exactly considering ourselves to be professionals, we all have day jobs where…

Holden Comeau 13:57
I’m an X professional athlete, I’ve been a professional triathlete for a number of years, but I thought I left that all behind me, my athletic career that is when I sort of stopped racing triathlon and started a business, had a couple kids, and really found Zwift because I was interested in you know, staying fit and because I’ve been a lifelong athlete, and it’s really easy to get quickly addicted to the racing in particular, cycling, esports racing, it’s just so much fun. And I, you know, one day I found myself with really phenomenal fitness, maybe better fitness than I’ve ever had in my life, which sort of snuck up on me, really was something that was unexpected.

Holden Comeau 14:54
We formed our team about a year and a half ago. I want a national, Zwift national championships last year. And since then we’ve been sort of “off to the races.” We’ve got great support from our two sponsors, Saris and The Pros Closet and things have been moving really quickly. And we’re proud to be sort of at the forefront of the entire cycling eSports movement, I guess.

Matt Gardiner 15:21
So we have two rosters: we have the women’s roster and the men’s roster. And for our men’s team, we currently have 13 riders. And then, Jen, if you want to speak a little bit about the women’s team, how many you guys have.

Jennifer Real 15:37
For the women, we currently have 10. But we have, hopefully soon, to have a couple more.

Matt Gardiner 15:41
It would be awesome to just add like tons of riders and have a really strong crew around the clock, like since this is a global game, there’s literally racing all the time. But something that we’ve really tried to hone in on is like a tight knit team dynamic where we’re all actually talking regularly and know each other all personally. So we have like a really strong bond as a team, which helps us a lot in races. It’s nice to have a manageable number of racers, we’ve got 13 really strong, strong racers who are all really tight knit.

Holden Comeau 16:18
We all consider ourselves to be pretty close friends with one another even though we’ve never really met one another in person, but we spend so much time together. So that’s sort of the priority that we’ve had in building and growing the team. But at the same time, we have also really been deliberate and strategic about filling certain roles on the team. We have climbers, we have TT specialists, we have sprinters, we’ve got all-rounders, we are thinking in those terms as well when we think about building our team. And that really factors into how we approach our racing as well.

Trevor Connor 16:53
Up until very recently, sitting on a trainer inside was really just that second rate alternative to what you think of as real training; that mindset has changed. Where do you think this is going?

Jennifer Real 17:06
I wanted to speak briefly about the women and the indoors versus outdoors. On the women’s team we have some women that really only race indoors. And then we have some that do outdoors and indoors. And I think Zwift is just such a blessing for women especially to get into racing at a very high level that they just otherwise wouldn’t have access to. I have one woman who is a former professional triathlete, who’s now a mom. And she rides only indoors because that’s what works for her life, you know. And I have a couple of women who, a woman who’s never raced the bike outdoors in her life and she’s one of the top racers on Zwift. And then I have many who also do outdoor racing. But what Zwift provides the women is an option to, you know, race some of the best athletes in the world from your living room. And that’s just something that’s totally new and totally amazing. And it’s really such such a great opportunity.

Jennifer Real 18:14
I mean, I live on the Big Island of Hawaii. I mostly only race Zwift and I personally have skipped outdoor races for those races because there’s not a lot of racing on Big Island for bikes; mostly triathlons, there’s only two bike races a year. And so Zwift, when I found Zwift a few years ago, I was all in do Zwift racing from from the get-go just because of the opportunities that it provided. I’ve seen especially over the past a year, the level of competition has just gone up and up and up. And I think that we’re still in the early phases of what eSports is becoming. And I think we’re going to see more and more pro teams having like maybe an Esports kind of squad, and more and more pro eSports only teams. I think a lot of women are going to look at this and say “Wow, they having parody for women.” And then in eSports they’re having equal prize payouts, equal courses, equal coverage for women. I can do this from home. This is great. This is this is the future for me.

The convenience of indoor cycling

Trevor Connor 19:28
Also from The Pros Closet, but not on the Zwift team is our friend Bruce Lin. You may recall from our last episode, Bruce had the goal of setting a new PR on Strava. As a new dad and holding a full time job we’re really interested in hearing his thoughts on the way he uses indoor riding.

Chris Case 19:46
Bruce, do you train indoors? And if you do, what do you like about it? What are your favorite tools? What’s your setup like?

Bruce Lin 19:57
So I actually do ride a lot indoors. I didn’t used to, but ever since starting my family, it’s been kind of a necessity. And my setups gotten progressively better. You know, I use a one of the Saris h3, direct drive trainers. I actually just got one of these Saris infinity platforms, it’s still in the box actually haven’t opened it, I’m hoping to get a lot of use out of it this winter. And unfortunately, I’m the type of rider who, during the winter, I’m actually a lot fitter than I am during the summer, because I end up doing these structured plans on the trainer. And I’m able to do them in the evening when the kids sleep and I get a lot fitter. And then during the summer, when the days get longer, and it’s hot, I don’t want to be inside, I actually lose a lot of that fitness. So I actually rely on indoor training a lot. And I love it. I’m hoping of having one of these platforms is going to make it so that I can do it even more. And hoping this winter is going to be my best winter ever.

The pros and cons of indoor cycling

Trevor Connor 21:12
So, I’m looking at page 73 of your book, this is the other big line that I really liked where you say, “Adding an interactive component to riding inside has been the real game changer. Community social connections, competition and a sense of belonging are all part of the appeal of participating in sports.” This is as you said, is kind of implying the interactivity with other people. But I personally would take interactivity further, it’s not sitting there staring at a tiny little TV monitor it’s – when you’re on the trainer you’re interacting with something. I’m on Zwift, I’m also on be cool; I love going for rides on be cool, where you can watch the videos and just ride by yourself, but go to other places in the world and see what it’s like. And that’s a form of interactivity, too.

Chris Case 22:03
So there’s clearly some positives here. And we’ve touched upon them in other episodes, there’s a lot of opportunities to race that could be seen as a positive and potentially a negative if you race every hour, every day. You could overdo it. There’s that social aspect that helps people get on to get more active more often, as Jim mentioned, what are you know, some of the side effects, I guess of this?

Joe Friel 22:34
Well, you touched on one of them already: a person could race every day if they wanted to. And that’s not conducive to good training. I’m afraid a lot of people believe it is good training, you know, but high intensity with great frequency is actually counterproductive, you need some time in there just to spend on lower intensities. You know, the whole thing that the 80/20 polarization concept is we’ve been talking about now for the last 15-16 years is a big part of this. And that doesn’t change just because you’re indoors, we still need some time to get the aerobic fitness, not just the anaerobic fitness, which is largely what we’re doing when we’re racing indoors. So I think the great concern is trying to get people not to be using just strictly for high intensity on a daily basis. That’s going to be counterproductive I’m afraid.

Trevor Connor 23:26
To take that a step further thing I want to ask you about, because this is a concern to me, is traditionally you hit the base season, or you hit offseason and then the base season, and in the past, there was no opportunity to race. So that’s where you did your work. That’s where you did your steady training, your interval work, and just got really excited for when March came around and you could race again. Now you’re seeing athletes who are racing on Zwift every day in December. What sort of impact do you think that’s having?

23:56
Well, that can have a very negative impact. I’m going to backup. First of all, it comes down to what is the athlete training for? If the athlete is training to do Zwift races in December, then that’s okay. If the athlete is training to do sanctioned road races in the summer, that’s not gonna work out so well. So it kind of depends on what the athletes goals are. But, you know, for the most part, I’m still talking to people who are mostly who are concerned about charging for events that take place in warmer weather. And they’re still using the trainer though, unfortunately, in a way, which causes them to be going high intensity frequently. And that’s the downside of it. The thing is, you know, riding indoors has really got some great potential, but we have to learn how to use it. It’s like any other tool that a coach or an athlete may have. It’s not the sort of thing that you just continually use and that you use to the exclusion of all other types of training. There are lots and lots of things an athlete can be doing to improve performance and High Intensity racing is only one of those things, that can certainly be done too frequently.

Zwift’s potential impact on traditional racing

Trevor Connor 25:05
Another question in terms of looking at the effects of all this is, what impact do you think this is going to have on traditional forms of racing? Why would somebody pay the money get in a car and drive to Granfondo or race when they can hop on their trainer at home and do a free race on Zwift? Do a free group ride on Zwift? Do you think this is going to have an impact on what we think of as traditional cycling, traditional events?

Joe Friel 25:35
Yeah, I don’t know right now, it’s still in the early stages. So we’re not really sure what’s going to happen. But certainly there will be some who decide that they really enjoy racing on Zwift more than they do racing on the local criterium, and you’d rather do that. And that’s fine, if that’s what the person wants to do.

Joe Friel 25:54
We all do this for fun, we’re not doing this because we get paid to do it. At least nobody I know is getting paid to ride their bike. So we might as well figure out what is fun, and then focus on doing that thing which is fun, but doing it in a way which produces the results that the person would like to have. I can’t just simply race all the time, regardless, of whether it’s indoors or outdoors and expect that to be beneficial. May be very, very hard, but that doesn’t mean beneficial all by itself. There are lots of things an athlete can be doing to try to improve performance. And doing races is just one of those things. In fact, an early, rather minor aspect in terms of amount of time expended, that’s really rather minor compared with all the time that needs to be spent on the bike to build the kind of fitness that is really all inclusive for all kinds of races and greater fitness.

Jim Ruthberg 25:58
Now this is one of the places where I have a slightly different perspective, because of the kind of the group of folks that I communicate with or work with. I looked at it as indoor cycling has given people the opportunity to remain more fit or gain fitness that they thought that they may have lost forever. folks who have full time jobs, have families, have a lot of commitments, especially these days with the economy being the way it is etc. going out to the local group ride, to the Grandfondo, or even local criteriums really is miserable when you’re not fit. And it just becomes unfun and you stop going. And indoor cycling, the ability for somebody to ride at four o’clock in the morning if they need or to arrive at seven o’clock in the evening if they have to, or if they want to, for that matter, and be able to stay fit enough that on a weekend when they have the opportunity to go to a local group ride, they can go they can be fast enough to be in the group and have fun and not suffer quite so badly. I think that’s actually going to end up putting people back onto the road more frequently than taking them off the road. Now granted, there’s still that, there’s definitely a group of people who find the safety aspect of indoors so much more compelling than taking the risks of riding in a group or even just riding on the road. But from a fitness standpoint, giving people the ability to go and have fun again on the road because they have the fitness again to do it has been, I think, we’re seeing in the granfondo world, especially people are going to those rides because they can go out and have fun again.

Are some people built more for indoor cycling than road racing

Chris Case 28:40
One question, this maybe jumps a little bit ahead in the conversation but it’s on my mind to ask it of all three of you. And that is are some people just built more for indoor cycling than they are for the outside racing world. As an example, somebody whose cornering ability isn’t that great, but has a huge engine, they can do really well on Zwift because there is no technical aspect like that. So some people might just be attracted to indoor cycling because they do better.

Joe Friel 29:12
Yeah, it can certainly happen that way. There are lots of people I know who would like to race but quite honestly, they don’t like being in packs of riders going fast. They find it very frightening. And for that person Zwift gives them the opportunity to do that type of race without having to worry about crashing. So there has to do the same thing with riding on the road. Riding on the road in some places especially can be very dangerous. This gives the athlete an opportunity to ride as they want to when they want to and take away some of the danger and risk of doing it. So I think it’s got lots of potential for athletes to do things they really enjoy doing. And yet take away some of the downsides at the same time.

Jim Ruthberg 30:01
And then you’ll see the same thing in in professional racing. And they’ve started to do some of the, some esport racing and Zwift obviously, it’s gotten very, very involved in it, I think you’re going to see that some of the riders who are wonderful racers on the road, may not be the best racers, as an esport cyclist, and vice versa. There may be some cyclists to win tremendous events in ecycling and get shelled out the back of the group in actual classic because the mentality and the skill and the risk takin/the risk tolerance, etc. that go into, you know, riding outdoor today is very different than being able to crank out the waters that you need to and the tactics that are involved in eSports.

Trevor Connor 30:52
Well, I mean, I’ll give you an example of that I had, we had a friend of mine, on the show talking about cornering skills, a couple months ago, and we asked him about Zwift and he went “Oh, I hate it.” And asked him why – and just to give it context this is Emile Abraham, he’s podiumed at the Pan Am Games, he was one of the best crit riders in the country when he was in his prime – and he said, “I hate Zwift because I can’t last more than five minutes in a race.”

Chris Case 31:23
He has the tool set that applies to the road, and he can’t take advantage of some of those tools at all, when he’s sitting on a trainer.

Jim Ruthberg 31:34
Well as you guys were talking about before the opposite, or the flip side is going to happen as well. And we’ve mentioned, we talked about this a little bit in the book, in terms of people can generate enormous fitness indoors. And then they go outdoors and mixing with a group of people who are very skilled and very accomplished on the road. And there’s a mismatch of skill, that there’s a match of fitness and aerobic engine, and a mismatch of skill. And we’ll see that happening more and more when you get people who can make it into or stay with the lead group in a group ride or your local criterium. But don’t have the skill set necessarily, or the tactical savvy, to understand what to do with that kind of power.

Trevor Connor 32:20
This is something we’ve known, this isn’t just now, this has always been the case of the the most dangerous rider in a race is the person with a big engine who doesn’t have the pack skills. Because they’re the ones who can cause crashes. They’re the ones when the race gets heated, and you might be bumping shoulders, you have to hold your line when you’re going around corners. They don’t know how to do that. And I will say, as you said, Chris, we’re kind of jumping ahead here. But the important point I’ll bring up is if you’re spending a ton of time doing eracing, and you want to get out in the road, do things to work on those pack skills. Remember that in the real world, you can’t ride through people.

Chris Case 33:04
Yes, this is true. You might try. But that would be a bad thing. That would be a very bad thing.

Trevor Connor 33:11
I will admit to you I was really frustrated back in May. I think this was an experiment by Zwift. I did this race that had a huge number of people, there was over 1000 of us on the start line, and we were two minutes out of the start line and all of a sudden, a whole bunch of us were on our side spinning in circles, unable to go anywhere. I think Zwift was experimenting with having virtual crashes. So there was a whole bunch of us and then we had to chase after that, after our riders were allowed to get back up and start riding again. But I was really annoyed by that because I’m like, this is the whole reason I’m doing this. I’ve crashed enough in the real world. I don’t want to crash here.

Chris Case 33:54
Virtual crashing also sucks.

Trevor Connor 33:56
So I don’t know if they kept that or what. But billy, that was annoying.

Jim Ruthberg 34:00
Well, they’re definitely, I mean, the upcoming or the next steps and they’ve already been – some of the equipment manufacturers are already in line with it. They’re introducing steering and braking, so for instance, the stages smart bike has the ability to handle when it’s available, utilizing the braking features within apps, when the apps are equipped with it. So, what everyone’s sort of suspecting is that they’re going to be introducing steering and braking as features within eSports for indoor cycling. You know, and then there’s going to be a transition period obviously, where some races are going to going to utilize them and others won’t because not everyone’s going to have the same equipment.

Whoever has the best power, isn’t necessarily who will win on Zwift

Trevor Connor 34:50
You brought up another point in your book, and I think this is important too when we’re looking at the difference between on the road and eracing or eriding; a common expression has always been, if it was just the strongest rider who won, we put everybody on a trainer on the start lines and see who puts out the best power. So we’ve always know out on the road that there’s a lot more to it. But in an erace, you’re literally putting everybody on the trainer on the start line. And there’s a bit of a simplification, but the only numbers it’s using are your power, your height and your weight. So to a degree, it’s who can put out the best power.

Jim Ruthberg 35:28
Yes, except that what we’re seeing, especially when you talk to the folks who are most experienced with eracing right now, the knowledge of the course, is becoming more and more important, in the sense that where the climbs are, when to put power down, when the resistance goes up, actually, you know, they’ll change the coefficient of friction on the road, in places. And then there’s still the drafting aspect, in terms of, you’re still attacking other people and putting people on the ropes in terms of their power per, you know, a five minute period and then trying to hit them again and again. So there are it’s – I think when we used to talk about the idea of if we would just put people on trainers and then decide that was based on the idea that you can put out six watts per kilogram for 20 minutes, then that’s it. The eSports at least are pitting riders against each other and on courses with variable resistance in such a way that you still have to ride the course.

Trevor Connor 36:32
Now that’s really fair. And I’ll actually even take that a step further and say, so I spend part of my time in Toronto, part of my time in Colorado. Up in Toronto, I have a 20 year old dumb trainer, in Colorado, I have a smart trainer. And I find when I do the same races in both places, I have to race them differently because on my dumb trainer when we hit a hill, I don’t feel the increase in resistance. And sometimes that causes me to fall back a lot because I don’t respond quick enough. But on the flip side, if we have a little downhill, a little leveling there, the people on the smart trainers, their resistance eases up, mine doesn’t. And that’s where I find in the races, I can really hurt people because I’m just staying constant. So I will actually race differently in Colorado on a smart trainer than I do on my dumb trainer in Toronto.

Jim Ruthberg 37:21
And that’s one of the things within Zwift specifically that people reduce the trainer realism setting, which they refer to it as trainer difficulty, it’ll allow the rider on the descents, the smart trainer won’t ease up quite as much. So the differential between what the rider feels going uphill and downhill levels out so that they can maintain power. Because if it’s the other way around, and you increase that realism effect on Zwift, the resistance goes to virtually nothing on downhills, and you couldn’t possibly generate enough power to keep up.

Trevor Connor 38:01
Yeah, and you talked about that in the book that everybody – if you’re taking these races, seriously, you should experiment a little bit with that realism, find what works best with your strengths. So who would you say should really take advantage of that resistance versus who should take it down more like a dumb trainer.

Jim Ruthberg 38:19
Reducing the realism setting ends in Zwift, you feel the change in pitch less. So in other words, when you when you hit a hill on the road, and you go from you know, 1% grade to a 12% grade, all of a sudden, you really feel that and you have to increase your effort accordingly. With the realism setting, you don’t feel that transition quite as rapidly. Now you still, the work required to get to the top of the climb is the same. It doesn’t save you any work or any energy, it just changes how you run into and out of the changes in pitch.

Chris Case 39:03
All in all, there’s a lot of nuances here that it takes to be a good eRacer, or eSports cyclist and we’re gonna catch up with some pro racers and we’ll be able to pick their brains about all these nuances when it comes to racing on Zwift.

Trevor Connor 39:21
Yeah, we’re talking with a team that is what they do you eRacing is their thing.

Racing tactics on Zwift

Trevor Connor 39:30
Let’s get back to the Saris – Pros Closet team and hear what they have to say about racing tactics and strategy on Zwift.

Chris Case 39:36
That sort of raises the question here, you guys do this really well, I want to pick your brains. What are some race strategies or things that are completely different that you need to know when you step into that Zwift world? You know, I think a lot of people have heard the, you have to start pedaling before the race actually starts or else you’re you might get dropped immediately, but what are some other things in that vein that people should be aware of if they’re new to this world,

Jennifer Real 40:06
The biggest thing for someone new to Zwift is to understand the draft and how it’s different than in real-life cycling. And that you can’t soft pedal, or you’re going to be spat out the back. And you have to just keep pedaling, even on downhills if you’re a lighter rider – that is a big change. And then you have to understand kind of how you control your avatar with your power, like your legs, your power, that is your video game controller. So you want to move up in the bunch, you just put in a little bit more pressure on the pedals. And you think of your legs like a video game controller.

Trevor Connor 40:46
Let’s dive a little deeper into that aerodynamics because that’s one of the big things I’ve noticed is the drafting. Obviously, it’d be too complicated for them to program in actual aerodynamic effects, so they’re trying to simulate it. My understanding is in Zwift, essentially, what they do is if you’re close enough to somebody going a similar speed with relatively similar power, they just attach this invisible elastic to you and that rider, which is different from their aerodynamic effect. But you, all of you have far more experience with this. So could you describe to us how it’s different and what you need to be aware of.

Matt Gardiner 41:24
I think there is aerodynamic effects programmed into the game. So I think depending on how close you are to someone, you do get more of a benefit, or where you’re positioned. Like something that our men’s team is really good at is the team time trial format of racing, which a lot of teams, they think the fastest way is just to have everyone be going as hard as they can. Well, the way that we’ve always done team time trials is we ride with like a meter between each rider. And we do like a perfect pace line. And there is a noticeable difference in draft, if you’re a meter behind someone or two meters, or three meters and then at four meters, I think that’s when you’re that’s like the least amount of draft.

Matt Gardiner 42:07
The difference from outside is, it’s just not as good of a draft as outside, hands down. If you’re to sit behind someone outside, you can do significantly less than the person ahead of you. I think in Zwift, maybe like a one watt per kilo benefit sitting behind someone is pretty typical, maybe one and a half.

Jennifer Real 42:27
One other thing about the draft is that it seems like there’s a bit of a range of the power output you can put out and still stay in the draft. And if you play around with this in a group ride, you can see okay, I can put out you know, 20 more watts, but it doesn’t change anything. So what you want to do is you want to find the least amount of power you can put out and still remain in the draft.

Chris Case 42:51
What about other types of things like changes in terrain? How does that impact the way you ride you? Obviously, if you’re out on the road, you see the climb coming and you up your power to, so that you don’t get bogged down at the bottom of the climb if it’s a short and steep type thing, you must keep your eye on the terrain, you must know these courses really well. How do you anticipate some of these terrain changes, and what’s the riding style like for that?

Matt Gardiner 43:20
That was going to be the tip that I was going to give was that you really need to know the courses before you try to race them because basically, like Holden said, these are interval – like it’s basically like an interval workout. So when you get to a hill, you know, you’re gonna have to put out a certain effort. So that’s something that we just by loving the game and playing it a lot, we know the courses pretty well. So I know if I’m going on Watopia flat, that the esses or whatever is like a rolling section of course, I know I have to like surge my power, as I’m leaning into each little gradient to maintain speed. So that’s just huge to know what’s coming on the road ahead. And you really don’t know unless you’ve ridden the road before. The game will tell you the gradient in the top corner of your screen, but it doesn’t tell you upcoming gradient necessarily. So you could be caught out by maybe if you went too hard and then you get hit with a climb right after, well, you might be out the back after that.

Holden Comeau 44:23
Knowing the terrain that would be related to the tip I would give to when people first start racing. Very cognizant of how much power they’re putting out and they’re watching that big power output number in the top left hand corner of the screen and they’re thinking about, you know, that effort that they’re doing and maybe trying to conserve power in different places relative to the terrain. Once you really understand where those gradients are and you’ve ridden around the courses enough, you start to think less about that power number and more about speed and your momentum and you can really develop a sense of flow almost in the game. And you can read the dynamics of the pack itself and how the pack might be accelerating and stringing out or condensing and grouping up. And you can also start to predict when those sorts of behaviors are going to happen in the race. You know, relative to those grading inclines at different different moments. So there’s those sort of consistent behaviors that after a while, you’ll pick up on and they happen frequently around the various courses in similar ways.

Jennifer Real 45:42
One thing is a lot of new Zwifters might not be using a smart trainer. They might be using a wheel on trainer that doesn’t automatically adjust resistance. So if you’re riding a non smart trainer, you have to think, Okay, this great, there’s a gradient upcoming, I need to put out more power because my trainers – everybody has a smart trainer, the gradient is going to get harder for them and they’re automatically going to put out more power, but on a non-smart trainer, you really have to be very conscious of that. And I started with racing on an old yellow lamanda spin bike power tap pedal. And so every time there was a hill, I would have to crank that knob for the resistance. So that’s something that people have to pay attention to.

Trevor Connor 46:28
So that was actually gonna be my question, because I have both. I have a smart trainer now and I have a really old dumb trainer and I race on Zwift on both. And I was gonna ask if actually any of you do that, because from my experience, I actually race better on the dumb trainer.

Jennifer Real 46:44
I haven’t raced on not, since I got a smart trainer about a year and a half ago, I’ve never gone back. I just like it better. It’s definitely very different. And it takes a big adjustment to getting used to the two ways, I think it’d be hard to go back and forth between one or the other.

Matt Gardiner 46:58
I like to race with the trainer difficulty on like a very low setting. So in Zwift, you can control how much your smart trainer feels the gradient. And I for a long time I raced at 50%, which is actually a requirement now for the pro leagues that we race in. But I went, I started adjusting it down until I landed like 10%. So I could just barely feel climbs, but just enough to know like, “Oh, I need to shift into a harder gear.” But I think there is something to be said about having a constant resistance and then use your gearing to adjust your power output or how difficult it is to ride. Which so you could basically make your smart trainer a dumb trainer by turning the trainer difficulty all the way down to zero and then you wouldn’t feel any hills. And you’d have complete control over your gearing and resistance level that way.

Trevor Connor 47:54
Interesting. Okay, so you kind of go for this hybrid of the two, you want to feel it a little bit ,but not have it dominate.

Matt Gardiner 48:02
Yeah, I think it’s really difficult, like, I don’t want to get into my small ring on if I have to climb up the Alp. I don’t know, if I can minimize my shifting then that’s ideal.

Trevor Connor 48:11
There are some obvious differences. One is that you can ride right through people in Zwift, not something you can do out in the road. And please don’t attempt that. We talked about how the aerodynamics are a little bit different and you don’t have brakes. So I find when I’m in a peloton, I have a real hard time being in the middle of it, I’m either accidentally off the front of it, or accidentally on the back of it, and just going back and forth between the two because I can’t ever find that sweet spot.

Holden Comeau 48:42
You know, and I think that speaks to the point I made earlier about how suddenly eSports is sort of creating just a new athlete type. And it’s because of those sorts of things. You’re forced to change the way you ride and how you pedal in order to play the game successfully. So because you don’t have brakes, because your legs are your controller, you’re making a lot like faster, quicker changes in power output. So you need to react very quickly and it’s almost like thinking one pedal stroke at a time – almost. So you know, you’ve got to fluctuate power output up and down. And that is you know, in anticipation of the need to break or in anticipation of the need to move forward in the pack. And that you know, that forces you I think to pedal a little bit differently and in turn that changes you know, the physiological demands that’s being put on the riders changing how your fitness is being built and I don’t know if that’s exactly, you know, something that would crossover in outdoor cycling, in indoor cycling, if there hasn’t been enough time to study those differences, but it’s definitely something I noticed that that’s how you do it, you’re trying to be as adaptable as quickly as possible with your power output when you’re pedaling.

Trevor Connor 50:24
The one thing I did notice that you just touched on is that idea of anticipation. I find to be able to ride effectively, in a group and Zwift, you have to anticipate a lot more.

Holden Comeau 50:36
Absolutely, the more you do it, you learn what those signals are, so to speak, you know, there’s those that – you start to pick up on the little cues that tell you that something’s going to happen, and that you’re going to need to respond a certain way, you will notice that there’s a lot of those different queues that are happening. You’ve got a rider list on the right hand side of the screen, and that tells you in real time, you know, everyone’s watts per kilo, and if you see someone spiking up their power, then you have to be ready to respond in some way to that. You’ve got the gradient that’s in effect and that you’re that you’re thinking about, you’ve got the actual speed and your pace that you’re moving, the size of the pack as well to consider you know, how much draft you might be getting, your position in the pack – I’m always thinking about, I spend them most of my time thinking about whether or not there’s someone behind me because I know if there’s someone behind me, then I know that I’ve got, you know, at least one more person that can come around me and I can attach to their wheel and they can ride me forward. But there’s a lot of those things that you’re sort of considering. And again, anticipating different scenarios.

Trevor Connor 51:55
I have learned to stare at that little thing over on the right showing your position relative to people and it’s same thing when I’m the last rider in a group and you can see the next rider behind you is a minute back… yeah, it’s a scary place to be.

Chris Case 52:10
Not unlike race out on the road.

Trevor Connor 52:12
Well, yeah, but I mean, when you’re tailgunning in a race out on the road, there’s a lot of times where you’re safe, in a Zwift race –

Chris Case 52:19
Never?

Trevor Connor 52:20
Not in my experience, you guys might be able to do it better than me. But tailgunning is the scariest thing in the world in a Zwift race.

Matt Gardiner 52:27
Yeah, it makes me uncomfortable to be at the back of a pack like I, I spend most of the time at the front or trying to get off the front of the peloton. So when I get too far back, I get the – I feel like I’m going to miss something if it goes off in front.

Jennifer Real 52:42
It also it can be very dangerous to be on the back of the pack as soon as the pack hits the climb because all it takes is one gap somewhere with a rider in front of you. And if it’s a big enough pack, a gap can form and you don’t even realize it and all of a sudden, you know there’s a front group and you’re in the back group and you can’t even see that on your screen necessarily.

Trevor Connor 53:03
There is with this sort of racing, always the issue of people not putting the real weight in. It’s a real easy way to cheat. How do they handle that? Particularly in the sort of onvitational races that your squad is doing?

Matt Gardiner 53:18
Since the Zwift facilitates those they use the Zwift Accuracy and Data Analysis, SADA, which is a team of coaches and data scientists. So before the race within 24 hours, you have to weigh yourself and send a video into ZADA and you have to do height measurement at the beginning of an event for the pro level racing or the elite level racing for Zwift, it was really well policed, I would say because you could dehydrate yourself, but you have 24 hours before the start of the race at the maximum. So if someone were to try and dangerously get to a weight that’s unbelievable for them. They’re not gonna race very well. So I would say for the elite level, it is pretty good. But yeah, it is something you have to take with a grain of salt when you’re doing the community races that are just open to anyone. I feel like if you get too wrapped up and worring about it’ll just ruin the fun of it.

Jennifer Real 54:20
And also in the new upcoming Zwift Racing League they’re going to have dual recording mandatory for all racers at the elite level.

The different modes of indoor cycling and how to apply them to training

Chris Case 54:30
Let’s change gears a bit and talk about the application of indoor cycling more from the training side of things and the different modes of indoor training. There’s obviously different ways you can set up your trainer, your smart trainer, dumb trainer, but in any case, set up your studio for the application of training indoors. Let’s walk through some of the pros and cons of each. I guess we should also start with the different modes. Trevor, do you want to give us a little overview of what those modes are, since you are doing this quite often?

Trevor Connor 55:15
Well, let’s throw it to the two of you, because you understand the technology far better than we do. But you did a great explanation in the book of the self directed versus erg mode versus, you know, basically these different ways of using a trainer. Can you give us the broad overview explanation of these different modes, the different ways of using it?

Jim Ruthberg 55:37
So we looked at indoor training and tried to break it into categories, because as you said, you can modify or you can combine things in a variety of ways. So we looked at it and thought, well, there’s an off grid method of indoor training, where it’s kind of your trainer that’s not connected to anything, and you’re staring at the metal wall or the computer on your handlebars, or TV that’s playing Tour de France videos. And then there’s the connected version of indoor cycling, where you’re connected to something that is training content. So whether it’s an app or you’ve downloaded a workout from training peaks into your, into your cycling computer, and it’s controlling the trainer, but somehow you’re connected to something, then going a step further, is he interactive, which is the sports or virtual group ride, or you’re connected to other human beings, and then there’s together and that’s sort of the in person classes, or the on demand classes where there’s a guide or subject, and that includes peloton and things along those lines. So we sort of categorize them across those, and each of them have their pros and cons and their applications to training. There’s nothing that is inherently better about any of the four and they each have their utility within training.

Trevor Connor 57:09
Yeah, that’s what I wanted to ask you about because I agree it’s not a “well erg is better than self directed or group ride.” It’s, as you said, each one is just different. What would you say is the best applications for each from a from a training standpoint?

Chris Case 57:25
And I think it’s worth defining erg mode for those out there that don’t know what that term means.

Jim Ruthberg 57:31
So erg mode within the smart bikes, or smart trainers, is going to be where an application or an external source is controlling the resistance on the trainer. So if I, or Joe, gives you a workout that says, you’re going to do 100 watts for five minutes x six intervals, the trainer will put you at 400 watts and keep you there for the duration of that interval.

Chris Case 57:57
Yeah, let’s get back to the the pros and cons of each of these four different modes.

Jim Ruthberg 58:02
The off grid, for instance, for some people it’s a necessity, so that’s what they have. Either you don’t have internet connection, where you have your trainer, you don’t have the trainer that is, you know, a 1200 dollar or $700 trainer, it’s what you have. And one of the things that I thought was important within the book, and within this context is not to tell people that if that’s what you have, that it’s somehow inadequate. It’s perfectly fine to do that. Not only that, but in cases where there are riders who are easily distracted, who need to work on the ability to focus, on the ability to be self direct, self motivated, turning off all of those other things can be crucial because when it does come to, whether it’s if you’re doing an outdoor race or you’re training for an Iron Man or something of that nature, when it comes down to it, you’re going to have to produce the power on your own when it comes down to it. So the ability to train off grid and do that for yourself is important. If you rely too heavily on the social aspect of interactive training or the control aspect of ergometer training. When you have to put the power down on your own, you may not have the willpower to do so.

Trevor Connor 59:33
I personally have used erg mode for a long time, especially in the winter when motivation is low and I get on the trainer or just having the trainer say okay, you’re going to be, not at 400 watts, but 300, 320 and you don’t have a choice here, really beneficial. As you said you have to learn how to produce that power yourself and I always, as it got late in the base this is what I do with my athletes. I then say “Okay, now let’s transition outside and figure out how to do that same power.” But I have to admit, and you hinted at this, I find another advantage of erg mode is this fact that we’re all kind of like dogs that see a squirrel; you get on Zwift, you might have a workout, but then somebody passes you and look, I’ve done this 100 times, you have to chase them. And when you’re in erg mode, and somebody goes by you, you don’t have a choice, you can’t chase them, because the trainer is going to control your wattage.

Jim Ruthberg 1:00:29
And I think Joe can certainly speak to the fact that the quality of a training session, you know, from a coaching standpoint. If we want somebody to produce a certain number of kilojoules or a certain time and intensity, erg mode is a godsend. When you give an athlete, the training file, they put it into the system and off they go, and there is no shortcut, there is no athlete who slacks off in the last 30 seconds of the interval or skips the last one or all those kinds of problems that coaches have run into, over time. You give somebody this this file, and then the power file, you get back at the end looks exactly the way it’s supposed to.

Joe Friel 1:01:21
Yeah, the benefits there can be rather great, actually, in terms of that sort of thing Jim is talking about. Just making sure the athlete is doing the workout as specified. The downside is if the athlete is not ready for that workout yet. That’s something the athlete and the coach need to be talking about is when is a good time to decide not do the workout as it was designed? And there could be lots of reasons for that, fatigue being the most common reason. So lots of things are worth potential for the athlete, but the coaching athletes still need to talk about how do we go about using these tools to produce the best, not best workouts, but ultimately the best fitness for that given rider.

Jim Ruthberg 1:02:07
So Joe, one question that I would have for you is, well, how should people, for instance, with ergometer mode, correlate? Because ergometer mode only controls power. So how, what do they need to be doing with correlating RPE and heart rate in order to see whether or not that workout is the way it should be?

Joe Friel 1:02:30
The bottom line always is RPE, rate of perceived exertion. That really is what training is all about. If every battery on your bike failed, you should still be able to do the workout or the race, and do it in a quite appropriate manner, hit numbers which are very close to what you’re supposed to be hitting, even if you don’t have the numbers in front of you. So every athlete needs to be able to do that. And all we’re doing with the power data and so forth has given us a way of specifying more precisely what that effort should be.

Joe Friel 1:03:08
So, bottom line is the athlete has to know how – for example, when I was coaching a lot of athletes, I would have them put a piece of tape over their handlebar device or even over their wristwatch, they couldn’t see their heart rate, still had to do the workout. And then later on would look at to see how they were doing relative to what their impression was of how hard it was. In other words, RPE versus power versus heart rate. And so you know that that’s the sort of thing we all must be good at. We’re becoming very used right now to having all the numbers in front of us. But the bottom line is you’ve got to be able to produce those numbers without having them visible in front of us all the time. So tracking is really much more complex than simply looking at numbers. It’s got a lot of feeling and has to do with how am I doing? What am I supposed to be doing? And that’s something that the athlete has to learn. If you only look at numbers, then I’m afraid you’re really not becoming a well rounded athlete. You need to be able to interpret the numbers and use them but we also need to be able to do the workout without the numbers so we can just do it based on how it feels. So I think there’s it really goes both ways. There is no either or here. It’s really both the athlete needs to understand how to use the numbers and how to train based on RPE.

Trevor Connor 1:04:34
Joe before we get away from what you were just discussing a question I really want to ask you as a follow up; going back to erg mode where the trainer is setting the wattage, do you feel that helps athletes to learn the field or do you think that takes it away from them and always ride in an erg mode they’re never going to learn the field?

Joe Friel 1:04:56
I think it’s, again, it works both ways. The athlete needs to be able to know what’s going on as far as production, what wattage are they producing? The bottom line is, there’s two things we’re looking at in terms of performance and effort. One of them is is power. And that’s the performance measure. That’s what we’re looking at is how am I performing? Whereas RPE, especially, and also even heart rate are measures of effort. How much effort am I putting into this?

Joe Friel 1:05:33
So we’ve got both input, which is the effort, which is heart rate, for example. And we’ve got output, which is power. And the two of those need to be married, we need to be able to understand what we’re seeing when we look at numbers. And we can also then use those with measuring progress. What should happen over time, if the athlete is training properly, is that their output relative to their to their input, in other words, their power relative to their heart rate should be increasing. That’s just a very simple way of looking at how am I doing as far as fitness is concerned. And so the athlete needs to be able to interpret those numbers. But at the same time, we’ve got to be able to ride in a way that is based largely on how we feel at the time.

Joe Friel 1:06:21
Races are based on how we feel. We don’t do criteriums based on, for example, we don’t do try terms based on what the power should be at any given moment in the ride. You have to just know what that feels like and what they can do, what they know is possible from training, and therefore be able to apply in a race situation. So it’s much more complicated than simply looking at a number and I’m afraid people always associate me with numbers, I’m a very much a data freak. Quite honestly, there’s a lot more to training appropriately than just numbers. There’s a lot of things going on here about how the athlete feels producing those numbers. And that’s a critical thing for the athlete to learn in the process of training.

Chris Case 1:07:10
One of the other things, I guess this brings up in terms of advantages, I guess you could say, with this erg mode and using it for your training is the repeatability, that consistency, that control that you have over that. Do you see that as entirely an advantage? Or is there some disadvantage to that, Joe?

Joe Friel 1:07:32
Yeah, there’s the disadvantage is that the athlete is not really controlling what’s going on in a workout, the workout is controlling the athlete in fact. And so that’s- every one of these modes is got something about it, which is either negative and also positive. So the purpose of having all these is being able to then use the ones that best fit the situation that the athlete is in at the time, given what that athletes needs are to improve the performance. So it’s a matter of choosing what’s appropriate at the right time to the workouts. So it’s not an either or, in any case, it’s all these things are possibilities. And we need to be able to use all them in appropriate manner, the same as we would on the road.

Joe Friel 1:08:20
On the road, I could have the athlete ride a hilly course or flat course. And I could change it to group driver or solo ride. So there’s lots of things that are variables on the road also, we just got the same situation indoors only versus defined in different ways. Earth versus connected versus interactive, and so forth. What the coach has to do, to prepare the athlete for whatever their goal may be, or so maybe the athlete, his or her goal is racing at a certain level, you know, the athlete needs to be involved in all kinds of types of workouts to get there. The coach’s job is to figure out what those workouts should be.

Joe Friel 1:09:09
This comes down to what you mentioned the weaknesses of the athlete, I refer to those as limiters, Every athlete has a limiter. I don’t care who they are, every athlete has a limiter. There’s something that’s holding that athlete back from being successful and maybe several things and usually there are several things. Some are more important than others and the coach’s job is to figure those things out and then design workouts. And if we’re talking about these for indoor training, not only we’re picking out and designing workouts, the workout is based on the type of usage we’re going to get from the equipment the athlete has and the apps and so forth. So it’s a matter of figuring out all of this stuff. It’s kind of like being an engineer.

Joe Friel 1:09:52
Coaching is very similar to engineering. Basically, you’re trying to solve a problem. The problem is what is standing between the athlete and success and trying to eliminate that. Whatever that thing is, it’s got to be corrected, it’s got to be eliminated, or at least made less visible for this given athlete so that we can achieve the things the athlete is trying to do.

Joe Friel 1:10:18
So this whole thing of which mode do I use? And how do I use it? What intensity should I be, and all that stuff is extremely complex – and yet the coach is making decisions based on what they know about the athletes performance and potential. So it’s really a complex issue. It’s a sort of thing that most athletes never even give any thought to; they’ve just decided to work as hard, therefore, must be good. And that’s not always the case. There’s different definitions of hard based on how much intensity the athlete is applying what the endurance ratio is to the test ratio. So it’s a really compound issue, and we’re talking about here for trying to get the training right for the athlete, there’s no one mode we’re going to choose, that’s going to be right for every athlete in every situation.

Jim Ruthberg 1:11:08
Now, one of the things we do talk about in the book, though, is matching some of the modes to different types of workouts. For instance, the sprint type workouts where you’re trying to get to an unpredictable, but highest possible peak power or peak effort within that data, within that interval, erg mode isn’t gonna necessarily be helpful on that. But a level mode where you’re saying, well, the resistance level of the trainer is x, and it’s operating more like a fluid trainer, then that mode is going to be helpful with those kinds of trainings, those kinds of efforts; say the VO2max efforts where you just need to go as hard as you can for one minute or two minutes or three minutes at a time and we don’t know what that max is going to be. Or it’s a 15 second effort and we don’t know what that max is going to be, so you wouldn’t know where to set it under ergometer.

Jim Ruthberg 1:12:11
The ergometer mode for a type of workout where you’re going to do FTP training where you want to stay at a specific power output for 10, 12, 20 minutes, that can be a good use of ergometer mode. It can also at different times of the season be a good time to turn off ergometer mode, so that you know that you can produce whatever power that is for 20 minutes being self directed. So you can use it for for both.

Jim Ruthberg 1:12:43
And then whether it’s the interactive classes, or the group rides, or just the route mode, where it’s following along a predetermined course or virtual course, can be good for training the variability. The fact that you don’t know when you’re going to have to go hard during a race, you don’t know when you’re going to have to go from endurance pace, or endurance power output to VO2max power. So the scenario of what/how you’re using your training for those aspects or those training sessions. You wouldn’t want to use ergometer for that mode.

Trevor Connor 1:13:27
That’s towards the ends of the book. And I was about to bring that up too, that you did a really great summary of here’s the different types of work you do and which modes are appropriate and not appropriate for that. As you pointed out, sometimes it’s more important to know what’s not appropriate. You try to do sprint workout in ergometer mode and you’re going to have a really unpleasant time because the braking mechanism is going to lock down so hard, you’re just going to stop pedaling. So with each type of workout there are modes that are appropriate and aren’t.

Jim Ruthberg 1:13:59
And that gives me a good segue into the final way of training indoors which is the together version. So one of the biggest benefits of still going to indoor classes, studio classes, or on demand classes, etc. is the live coach aspect of it or the instructor aspect of it. Because you can get people who need or benefit from some of that advice, whether it’s encouragement from the coach, or tips on whether they need to change their cadence whether they need to do things differently while they’re riding. So the final way of training indoors shouldn’t be discounted in the sense that it’s not just what you can do by yourself but there are benefits to those studio classes.

Does Zwift change the way you train and race?

Trevor Connor 1:14:54
Let’s get back to the Saris- Pros Closet team Holden, Jen and Matt to talk about how they train in order to deal with a race calendar that involves racing several times every week.

Trevor Connor 1:15:03
The racing on Zwift is different from normal racing, where you in normal racing, you might have one or two races, you might not do that much racing through the year, we’re on Zwift, you can be competing, literally, you could be competing every day, if you wanted to. (I would be shocked if any of you are actually doing that.) But how does this impact training? For those of you who have had experience racing outside with more traditional racing, has being a Zwift racer changed how you train?

Holden Comeau 1:15:38
Definitely dramatically different approach to being a cycling eSports racer. I had been a swimmer through youth and through college, as an NC All American swimmer, and then a professional triathlete for about eight years. And now the approach I take – I was also a triathlon coach for a long time, so I have some experience in coaching and understanding that physiology and how to make athletes go fast- and the approach I’ve taken with Zwift has been really interesting. I don’t consider anything that I am doing from a training perspective anymore. I don’t ever train. So it is only racing and I would say that’s true 95% of the time. On occasion, I’ll do a easy recovery ride. Very rarely will I do any type of like interval training. I rode my bike outdoors, maybe six times over this summer for, you know, a longer two – three hour ride and that was most mostly just for a joyride perspective, it wasn’t about endurance, miles, or anything. It’s mostly just high intensity, hour long training or racing sessions almost every day. I usually take Monday’s off and I guess I probably average two days off a week if I’m being honest. Some days, it’ll be a little bit more than that, other weeks, a little bit less. But yeah, it’s been, from a physiological perspective, I can’t wait until the exercise scientists really start to pay attention to what’s happening with athletes around eSports. Because physiologically, it’s a very different athlete type that is succeeding at indoor racing. And from my perspective, it’s really pretty interesting.

Trevor Connor 1:17:59
So this is where I might get myself in trouble because I have that strong opinion that we all need a period in the year where we don’t race, where we do less high intensity, get back to more what you think of as traditional base training; you’re not really doing that. You are high intensity all the time, all year round. How are you finding – do you find no problems handling that? Or do you find it to be a bit of a struggle?

Holden Comeau 1:18:26
I’ve had the luxury really to approach cycling eSports from this perspective, compared to I guess, when I was racing triathlon, I just haven’t been – taking it seriously isn’t the right word, because I take it very seriously, but I don’t think about the training implications as much anymore. It has definitely crossed my mind that I’ve been going real hard for a long time. I’ve been sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak to, to see when I might crash or need, like be forced into taking a break and it honestly hasn’t happened. I’ve been going pretty consistently for about a year and a half, there’s been ups and downs and you know, that is I think sometimes related to other obligations or stresses of life in general where I just might not be able to be as focused, but for the most part, it’s been sort of a steady progression, and I’ve been able to keep up that pace for a while.

Holden Comeau 1:19:36
That might just be related to where I’m at in my life. I’m older, I’m 42. I did a lot of training for triathlons and for swimming when I was younger and so I might have sort of like a accumulated history I guess of preparation that might be setting me up pretty well right now. But that’s, it’s been my experience.

Holden Comeau 1:20:01
On a day to day basis, the stress of an hour, you know, the races are short, they’re 40 minutes, less than an hour typically, and you know, once you hit a certain fitness level, that really just doesn’t do too much to you from a fatigue level. And you can keep on doing that really, pretty consistently if you manage, you know, weekly stress well enough, I’ve found that it’s possible to keep on going. Now, whether or not I could be doing much better, if I were, you know, thinking a little bit more strategically about building fitness is the totally other question. I probably could be if I were a little bit more focused, and if I’m being honest, but I’m having a lot of fun with this approach.

Jennifer Real 1:20:50
I think it is a bit different for women than men. A lot of times women don’t recover as quickly as men because it takes a bit longer. So I don’t think you see the women racing, you know, five days a week on Zwift like a lot of the men do. I don’t know many women that can do that. So I think you’ll see a little bit less racing on the women’s side.

Jennifer Real 1:21:10
It is definitely different type of physiology going on in Zwift racing that leads to success. As Holden stated they’re one hour races and you don’t need the fitness for a six hour road race. And I also think it’s something almost more be more a tin to running, in that in the Zwift race, at least the women’s races, competitive ones, you’re never soft pedaling ever. I mean, it’s pretty much pedaling hard the whole time and then sometimes you’re going even harder. And so I think I’ve seen the women that are really successful on Zwift are often women that come from triathlon backgrounds, running background, and even ultra-cycling. Our best racer, Christy Tracy, she’s an ultra cyclist. She raced 24 hours last week, beat all the men in a race, and she’s crushing it on Zwift as well. And most people would think how can you be an ultra cyclist and be a Zwift racer at the same time? It doesn’t seem to jive. So I think everyone’s training is a little bit different. But I think what one thing that you do need is you need a high threshold, good SDP probably a nice base. And then you can go into really working on that top end, which comes pretty quickly. And then you just keep racing.

Matt Gardiner 1:22:25
I just want to add to what you said, Jen, that I think one of the biggest things that actually is outside of what like your physical, like capable of physically, is the mental aspect of sort of racing, because so much of a race is internal motivation on Zwift, because you can’t see your competition to know how much they’re suffering. So you’re really just like, in your own head, like, Man, this really hurts. Like let’s say you’re on a really hard climb. And you have to just really be internally motivated. And like someone for like Christy Tracy, she did the 24 hour time trial last week, like she is so mentally tough that I think that plays a huge role in success on Zwift is what you’re able to convince yourself to do in your living room or your basement at five in the morning, when it’s so easy just to get off. Like I think that’s why a lot of people find Zwift racing so difficult when they start or just riding the trainer is because it kind of sucks mentally, until the switch is flipped and the gamification really comes into play.

How could Zwift improve?

Chris Case 1:23:31
What would you like zwift to have in it that it doesn’t currently have in it to improve the racing experience to make it either more interesting, more fair. What do you say?

Jennifer Real 1:23:43
I’d like to see a little bit of improvement in the draft. I know they’re probably constantly always tinkering with it. But one thing that you do see now is that the more riders there are in a pack, the faster the pack goes. Sometimes that can get a bit out of control. I’d like to see some more new power ups because I think the power ups are super fun. I know a lot of people will say “Oh, power ups. No, it’s not fair” or whatnot. But I think that’s part of the game and I embrace it. So I love that they’re coming out with new power up all the time. I’ve heard about this anzel, but I haven’t seen it yet.

Trevor Connor 1:24:17
I got asked you guys well, yea or nay bring in all of the Mario Kart items, red shells, blue shells, green shells.

Chris Case 1:24:26
oil slicks.

Matt Gardiner 1:24:27
Oh, absolutely. You have that in the community races. It would be suck to be in a pro am race where it really matters for us and to get hit by a red shell.

Trevor Connor 1:24:38
But wouldn’t that be so much fun to have an actual Mario Kart race where you have all those items that you could just take one another out?

Chris Case 1:24:47
I might actually get on Zwift if that were an option, Trevor.

Trevor Connor 1:24:51
Zwift, I hope you’re listening.

Chris Case 1:24:54
So Matt, to get back to our serious question about improvements you’d like to see

Trevor Connor 1:25:00
I was serious about that.

Matt Gardiner 1:25:03
The improvement I would like to see is actually in the industry and not necessarily straight on Zwift. I think that power meter accuracy and an understanding from the cyclists would be, if that can be – I just wish that, I hope that there is more standardized power measurement and accuracy between devices. And because I think that is a big issue with with cycling on Zwift right now is that maybe there are people who have a power meter, which is inaccurate or can be tampered with. And they end up influencing a lot of races, which is frustrating, and it can be unintentional, which, that’s on the industry that sold them a power meter, which isn’t accurate. And I think that will make the game much better when you can buy into the results of races more regularly. It’ll just make the community better if the industry as a whole has a more standardized product as far as power measurement. That’s a big ask. So that may be more years down the road.

Jennifer Real 1:26:16
Yeah, but I think that’s what’s needed really to take this to to the next level. Because you can you can go ride two different power meters, and you can get 10 watts difference, easily. And I mean for maybe a lighter rider who weighs 50 kilos, that 10 watts makes a huge difference in the race. So yes, I would love to see power meters and trainers that are so called, you know, “cheek proof” and that are designed for accuracy. Power meters, they weren’t really designed for how they’re being used right now in Zwift. They were designed to give you as the rider the same number all of the time, which may or may not be exactly the accurate number.

Matt Gardiner 1:27:05
Then that was also something that when we started working with Saris initially was that we wanted to ensure that their product was as robust and accurate as possible. And we are overwhelmingly confident in the power output that the current trainer the Saris h3 puts out. We did right away, our team has every brand of power meter, you could think and we did a ton of testing on the trainer, comparing for race efforts and train rides to ensure that the power curve for the trainer was accurate with all of our power meters. And I think that, so I think smart trainers are getting there that the industry from that side is going to be really robust in 2021 and our meters on bikes they’re not designed to be raced on like that.

Trevor Connor 1:27:58
I think you’ve made a great point that the companies that are making the trainers are realizing this, realizing what these trainers are being used for and adapting.

Chris Case 1:28:08
Do you guys consider yourself gamers, athletes? Or both?

Matt Gardiner 1:28:16
I would say both. I was a very heavy gamer in my youth and played a lot of Halo three and I think once I got onto Zwift that was reignited, initially and I saw myself as like a gamer playing Zwift because at the time I was training for triathlon and not really racing. But now that I’ve- where the sport is gone, and where obviously, on an Esports team, I definitely see myself as an athlete gamer now.

Chris Case 1:28:47
Well, Joe, Jim, we like to close out every episode with a take home message, the most important salient point that you’d like to make from from this discussion today, we’ll give you 60 seconds. That’s our normal allotment. Joe, let’s start with you. What would you say is the most important take home from this discussion we’ve had today.

Joe Friel 1:29:16
The bottom line is that the athlete has to figure out what is best for them. We’re not all the same, we’re unique in so many different ways. Every athlete needs to decide, you know, what is best for me? I would suggest that indoor cycling provides a lot of opportunities for every cyclist, regardless of your goals. There are lots of opportunities here to take advantage of what’s available to us now in indoors, to make our outdoor cycling better, to race better, perform better, so forth. So there’s great tools available to all the athletes now because of stuff we’re doing with the equipment, apps and the app that you need to decide which of these things is what I want to try next, and it’s just a nice playground we have available now to all of us.

Chris Case 1:30:13
Jim, what about you?

Jim Ruthberg 1:30:14
Well, I think, you know, when I look back on my career, etc, the, my goal has always been, how do we get people to be more active and healthier, and to love what they’re doing. And then when it came to writing a book about indoor cycling, if it comes down to one line, at the end of the equipment chapter of the best indoor cycling options for you are those that increase the number of days you ride or increase the total amount of time you spend riding. So with all the things that we’ve talked about, and with all of the equipment and variations that are available, there isn’t anything that is inherently better or worse than the other. But finding, helping people to find whatever it is, it’s going to make them ride more frequently, ride more often, get more fit, improve their health, and reduce their stress level, etc. That’s what we need to do and riding inside can play a significant role in that and play a more significant role than it has been able to in the past.

Trevor Connor 1:31:30
These apps, the technology has somehow leapfrogged from just trying to make indoor training when you need to do it a little more tolerable to now actually been a really enjoyable experience. And indoor cycling is becoming a sport in and of itself. Where that is going to take us in five years, that was one of the things we had in our agenda here to discuss, but we all just kind of said, don’t know. Personally, if you asked me five years ago, if we were going to be where we’re at now. I’d go no, you’re crazy. So I’m excited to see where this is gonna go. I think my message to people is if you enjoy this, as Jim said, and this gets you on the bike, do it. This is different from what it used to be. The only warning I just want to give is if you are like many of us and you ride outside and you want to ride in groups. Don’t forget that skills element. Don’t forget that this is still different from riding in a group outside and you need to practice those skills. Chris?

Chris Case 1:32:38
You know me, I don’t ride inside ever. So-

Trevor Connor 1:32:41
Well we make you sometimes when we can.

Chris Case 1:32:45
I have partaken in a Zwift race or ride, I’m not sure exactly what it was. It felt like a race. That’s what I’ve heard Zwift is like, it’s like a race. But yeah, I mean, I go back to Jim’s point. Do what you would love to do, have it be an enjoyable experience. Make sure that it increases the amount of time you spend on a bike. I just happen to do that always outside and if I can’t ride my bike, I do something else. So great discussion. I am not the person really to best close out the episode but there we have it.

Trevor Connor 1:33:24
We made Chris do a Zwift ride and I had to do everything except for put him on the bike and put his feet in.

Chris Case 1:33:33
Next time you will have to lift me up onto it. Just because, not because I wouldn’t do it. I just want to see if you can lift me up and put me on my bike.

Trevor Connor 1:33:41
Like one of those little eight year olds when they go to bed and they act like a sack of potatoes.

Chris Case 1:33:47
Dead weight.

Jim Ruthberg 1:33:50
If that’s the case, then try one of the other ones. You know try Ruby, try RGT, try Be Cool.

Chris Case 1:34:01
Jim Jim, stop giving Trevor ideas would you?

Trevor Connor 1:34:04
I’m liking this.

Chris Case 1:34:07
Well, thank you guys. The book again “Ride Inside: the Essential Guide to get the most out of indoor cycling, smart trainers, classes and apps.” Thank you. Joe Friel. Thank you Jim Rothberg. It’s been a pleasure.

Joe Friel 1:34:21
Thanks guys, enjoy

Trevor Connor 1:34:22
Appreciate it guys.

Chris Case 1:34:29
That was another episode of fast talk. As always, we love your feedback. Email us at fast talk at fast talk labs.com or record a voice memo on your phone and send it our way. Subscribe to fast talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. And be sure to leave us a rating and review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on fast talker are those of the individual for Joe Friel. Jim Rotberg, Jennifer real Holden Kimo, Matt Gardner, Bruce Lynn and Trevor Connor. I’m Chris Hayes.